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Gino Ramirez, from Los Angeles Sanitation Department, picks up blankets during cleanup of the Occupy Los Angeles encampment.
The Los Angeles City Council considers on Wednesday whether to ban the use of tents in city parks. The move comes as the city prepares to re-open City Hall Park, where Occupy L.A. set up hundreds of tents during a two-month protest last fall that left the park in shambles.
“We had a multitude of issues that arose out of the tent issue – health issues, some criminal behavior,” Councilman Richard Alarcon said. During the Occupy protests outside City Hall, police said tents provided cover for criminal acts, although Occupy activists have denied that.
One civil rights lawyer said Occupy L.A. tents may be protected under the First Amendment.
“The United States Supreme Court and other courts have recognized that a tent represents expressive activity,” attorney Carol Sobel said.
Sobel, who has advised Occupy activists, pointed to one ruling that allowed homeless activists to set up tents in Lafayette Park outside the White House. “There is a difference between sleeping and living in the tent and using the tent for expressive activity.”
It’s illegal to camp in L.A. city parks. The proposed ordinance would prohibit setting up tents for any reason. Structures that provide shade for farmers market and other vendors would be allowed.
Alarcon said his motion to ban tents in Parks is supported by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and City Attorney Carmen Trutanich. He said Occupy L.A. and other protestors could still set up tents on sidewalks. “They have the right to do that on sidewalks,” he said.
Alarcon was referring to a previous federal court ruling that says homeless people in L.A. are allowed to set up tents and sleep on sidewalks between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. In the past, police have removed tents blocking sidewalks during the day.
“By and large, the Occupy folks were very peaceful,” Alarcon said. “But the tents are problematic on parks.”
In response to last year's Occupy L.A. protest, the City Council is also considering shortening the hours City Hall Park is open. Previously, it was open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Councilman Jose Huizar has proposed making the hours 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.